Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The squawking incident

“Are we keeping you from something?” I looked up suddenly, startled. Why was this person asking me such a question? Oh…I realized I had just…squawked…a bit. Quietly, I think, but nevertheless, I’d taken her by surprise. I’d offended someone. Despite what is sometimes said about people like me, I care very much. “Sometimes…I make sounds.” This was all the explanation I had at the time.

I was a bit out of my element. Since moving into a new place a little over a month ago, my partner and I have invited a few people over. This is something we haven’t done in years. I have been wanting to write about the state of our former apartment, but this is one of those Top Secret Secrets that may take a little longer to talk about. And even under the best of conditions, having guests is uncomfortable for me. It’s something I’m working on, slowly.

The sounds I make have not much to do with any of that. I have made bird and other animal sounds for as long as I can remember. They are a way of expressing things when words are less available. They are a way of participating. Many people, not just a few, have been annoyed by this way I have of expressing myself. There is a particular trill that comes up pretty frequently, specific to work. Wherever I have worked I have used it the way some people use chit chat and others whistling. Some people, even as they work, keep a window open to Facebook in case someone wants to message them. If I occasionally make a sound, this keeps me closer to the language others understand. When I am silent for a long time, my ability to process the spoken word slows down even more.

Sometimes the chirping and trilling annoy people. So does the endless chatter they engage in distract me. Sometimes I get off track and can’t find my way back to what I was doing. I try to compromise, to get along. No matter how many times I explain it, or what words or methods I use, most people are unable to see that this is not a matter of choice. Speaking and listening use an incredible amount of my energy. When I participate, it is often because I think enough of the person to not want to appear rude.

So yes, I do care when someone thinks I am being unfriendly or dismissive with my sounds. The trill I use most often at work is a happy one, focused and productive. A squawk ususally means I’m reasonably comfortable in your presence. A squawk isn’t anything bad. Really. Had I been unhappy, I would have howled.


  1. One reason why I like reading blogs by people with disabilities different from mine is because it helps me learn how we simply do certain things differently--and how much we are still fundamentally the same.

    What do you think of the political results in the US last night?

    I've now written an open letter to Obama, thanking him for mentioning people with disabilities in his speech last night. The letter is posted at:

    Feel free to circulate this anywhere you deem appropriate -- but particularly among Americans with disabilities, their loved ones, the professionals who work with them, and anyone who simply affirms that, yes, people with disabilities matter too.

    "It is the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, DISABLED and not disabled -- Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America."

    --President-Elect Barack Obama
    Acceptance speech, November 4, 2008; emphasis added

  2. Hi Bev, thanks for writing this. The more we neurotypicals hear what it is like, the more understanding we can be.

    I'm working with a boy who makes a sound like a marmot when he's thinking hard -- a kind of chirrrrr. His teachers regard it as disruptive. I was going to see if he could eliminate that behavior, and now I won't.

    Hmmn. Maybe I'll ask Boy how quietly he can chirrrr and have it still be effective.

  3. Liz, it's very likely that the boy does not realize he is making the chirrrr sound until after he has done it, and perhaps not even then. If he makes an effort to focus more attention on it, he may be able to do it more quietly, but you should keep in mind that this may be much more difficult for him than it appears.

    A few years ago I had a conversation with my husband about our son, who sometimes paces or rocks back and forth when he feels anxious. I wondered whether he was consciously aware of doing it. My husband said, "You know, sometimes I see you rocking exactly the same way, like when you're ordering dinner at a noisy restaurant."

    Up to that point I'd had no idea that I ever did any rocking at all. That certainly answered my question about awareness!

  4. You know, I really really appreciate this post and other posts like it. M does similar sounds and I have always wondered about it. I tend to find it endearing but I know some people may not.

    I too do some things when I am nervous. I crack my neck a lot and wring my hands, bite the inside of my mouth and sometimes hum.

  5. I meow frequently, and make other cat-like noises (and occasionally other animal-ish noises, barking, neighing, howling, and the like), either because I am content or because I do not have words available at that moment in time. It is nice to know that I am not alone in this sort of thing. Thank you.

  6. Oh, so the sounds I've been making, my difficulty following people's speech, and my annoyance with human chatter have something to do with each other. Oh, this is interesting.

    Do you get the threads? If you don't know what I'm talking about, then you don't. I've been trying to find other people who get them. I think the person who teaches my physics class gets them, but I haven't approached him about it yet. If he doesn't get them, then I'm some kind of weird that there isn't really a name for yet.

  7. Oh, so I'm not the only one who makes sounds. I do it especially while reading - small grunts and snorts, usually in some sort of one-sided communication with what I'm reading.

    I never realised this, too, could be part of an aspie dx (which I don't have yet, but I'm rather suspecting that I will at some point)


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